Keyword rankings were once a top priority for businesses wishing to rank higher in Google. Of course, it’s still important to do your keyword research and include this tactic in your overall SEO strategy, however, it’s now evident that it’s only one of many reasons you may or may not be showing up in search engine results pages (SERP).
The reason we were able to focus more on keywords in the past is because we had more access to information on the keywords people were searching for. That is, until Google Analytics altered it’s settings. You could also get keyword estimates from Google’s Keyword Tool.
Now, you can no longer find out which keywords are drawing organic traffic to your site. If you look on Google Analytics is will look something like this:
Obviously, this makes measuring what people are searching for and the impact of these keywords a lot tougher to analyse.
Google then updated the Keyword Planner Tool so it only shows estimates in broad ranges instead of a more precise (useful) figure. Previously, you were able to observe if a keyword was searched for 1000 times per month, whereas now you’ll just be given a range of between 1k – 10k per month. Clearly this makes a huge difference to how you approach your keywords and isn’t overly helpful for your strategy. This is why it’s now important to focus on topic clusters for SEO, because people expect Google to recognise intent. An example of this is the ability to type into Google, “Where should I go for lunch?” Instead of having to type in the name of a specific café. A topic cluster strategy focuses on topics as opposed to keywords and helps Google recognise related content and eventually boost your visibility.
It’s come to our attention that keyword ranking data is largely inaccurate. Hubspot suggests the reason for this is due to three reasons:
Google strives to deliver results which are personalised to each user based on their history. This means if I was searching for a Mecca lipstick then it’s likely Mecca will be shown near the top of my results page the next time I Google a lipstick.
This won’t be the same for someone who searched for a lipstick and didn’t visit the Mecca website. This is another reason why it’s difficult to work out which website ranks first because it changes based on your user history.
Device and location also play a massive role in what pops up in Google.
As mentioned above, intent has been factored into Google’s advancement over the years. So say for example you search for “Restaurants in Sydney.” Google now has a lot more to work with, so they’re able to see which device you’ve searched from, where you’re located whilst you’re searching and even if you’re moving! As a result, Google will absorb your message as, “Which restaurants are currently open for lunch within walking distance of my current location in Sydney, NSW?”
This has made Google a little psychic and obviously highly individualised – making it even more difficult to figure who is really ranked #1.
Keywords are now “directional” at best….
Strong keyword rankings don’t always equate to high volumes of organic traffic and revenue. A huge loss of visibility on search volume metrics makes it very difficult to accurately estimate the amount of traffic you can gain from a keyword.
Featured snippets attempt to answer your search query straight away and sit above Google’s organic results when you search, or as marketers call them “position 0.” The reason snippets are so popular is because they are super convenient. You can find what you are looking for right at the top and sometimes don’t even need to click on the link at all. It also means getting additional exposure for your brand. Below is an example of a “paragraph” snippet result.
The interesting thing about snippets is you don’t have to rank #1 to be featured as a snippet, although it will generally reach from the top 10 as well as some lower ranking content too. Commonly, snippet features will come from health, finance, mathematical and DIY type topics where a more direct answer can be delivered.
See below for Ahrefs’ top 30 most frequently met words featured in snippets.
Snippets also get double the amount of click-through-rate (CTR), according to Hubspot below.
Videos which are published to any platform, not just Google, are generating a lot of traffic. Google sees video as one of the best mediums to solve problems and search queries, therefore, is promoting them where possible at the top of results pages. It also means you might rank for content even if you haven’t actually written about it on your website.
Put simply, a topic cluster is multiple pieces of content which fall under one over-arching topic, with a shared topic and related subtopics. These pages offer comprehensive coverage of a specific subject which enables visitors’ in-depth insight into one particular topic.
For example, if your website’s over-arching topic is cosmetics, it will also have detailed content about lipsticks, concealer, foundations etc as related subtopics.
Welcome to the world of topic clusters. The not so secret weapon that content strategists are using to lay claim to high rankings in search engine results pages.
So, all of this information isn’t suggesting keyword rankings are completely dead, it’s just that it’s only one of several reasons your traffic may increase or decrease. You will need to look at the big picture and update your strategy to include the above points for continued success.